Skip to main content

Full text of "Tales of mystery and imagination"

See other formats

Everyman,  I  will  go  with  thee,  and  be  thy  guide, 
In  thy  most  need  to  go  by  thy  side. 

This  is  No.  336  of  Everyman's  Library.  A 
list  of  authors  and  their  works  in  this  series 
will  be  found  at  the  end  of  this  volume.  The 
publishers  will  be  pleased  to  send  freely  to  all 
applicants  a  separate,  annotated  list  of  the 


10-13    BEDFORD    STREET    LONDON    W.C.2 

E.  P.  DUTTON  &  CO.  INC. 

286-302    FOURTH    AVENUE 





EDGAR  ALLAN  POE,  born  in  Boston, 
U.S.A.,  on  igth  January  1809.  Brought 
up  as  an  adopted  child ;  educated  in  England 
and  Virginia.  Abandoned  a  business  career; 
was  dismissed  for  neglect  of  duty  from  West 
Point  Academy  (1831),  and  thereafter  sup 
ported  himself  by  writing.  Most  of  his 
life  was  spent  in  poverty,  and  he  died  on 
8th  October  1849  in  Baltimore. 

NEW  YORK:  E.  P.  DUTTON  &  CO.  INC. 

All  rights  reserved 

Made  in  Great  Britain 

at  The  Temple  Press  Letchworth 

and  decorated  by  Eric  Rarilious 


J.  M.  Dent  <§_  Sons  Ltd. 
Aldine  House  Bedford  St.  London 
First  Published  in  this  Edition  1908 
Reprinted  1909,  1910,  1912,  1914,  1916 
1917,  1921,  1925,  1928, 



WHEN  we  say  that  Poe's  imagination  moves  amongst  excep 
tional  things,  we  imply  that  he  is  familiar  by  temperament 
with  the  matter  proper  to  the  brief  narrative  or  tale.  The 
tale,  on  account  of  its  brevity,  is  precluded  from  expounding 
facts  and  experiences  that  are  socially  important;  therefore 
it  deals  with  the  exceptional — with  something  that  arrests 
our  curiosity  from  the  start.  It  was  a  French  critic,  M. 
Brunetiere,  who  noticed  the  social  insignificance  of  the 
incident  upon  which  the  tale  is  based;  and  he  has  pointed 
out  that  the  material  for  the  tale  is  to  be  sought  in  "  certain 
peculiarities  or  variations  of  passion,  which,  though  physiologi 
cally  or  pathologically  interesting,  are  socially  insignificant," 
and  M.  Brunetiere  goes  on  to  say  that  the  incident  is  never 
taken  out  of  the  mainway  of  life,  but  out  of  its  border — 
"  things  that  happen  on  the  margin,"  M.  Brunetiere  says 

That  phrase  "  on  the  margin  "  admirably  describes  the 
whole  of  Poe's  imaginative  work,  his  verse  as  well  as  his  prose. 
It  is  marginal,  not  central ;  it  comes,  not  out  of  the  mainway 
of  life,  but  out  of  the  border  of  existence.  Poe  gives  us  ex 
periences  that  are  on  the  margin  of  sanity,  or  on  the  border  of 
unconsciousness.  He  reports,  with  extraordinary  literalness 
and  lucidity,  the  last  swoon  of  the  nerves,  as  in  the  passage 
where  he  describes  the  sensations  of  one  who  has  just  been 
sentenced  by  the  Inquisition. 

"  The  sentence — the  dread  sentence  of  death — was  the  last 
of  distinct  accentuation  which  reached  my  ears.  After  that 
the  sound  of  the  inquisitorial  voices  seemed  merged  in  one 
dreamy,  indeterminate  hum.  It  conveyed  to  my  soul  the 
idea  of  revolution — perhaps  from  its  association  in  fancy  with 
the  burr  of  a  mill  wheel.  This  only  for  a  brief  period,  for 
presently  I  heard  no  more.  Yet,  for  a  while  I  saw — but  with 
how  terrible  an  exaggeration! — I  saw  the  lips  of  the  black- 
robed  judges.  They  appeared  to  me  white — whiter  than  the 


viii  Introduction 

sheet  upon  which  I  trace  these  words — and  thin  even  to 
grotesqueness ;  thin  with  the  intensity  of  their  expression  oi 
firmness — of  immovable  resolution — of  stern  contempt  of 
human  torture.  I  saw  that  decrees  of  what  to  me  was  Fate 
were  still  issuing  from  those  lips.  I  saw  them  writhe  with  a 
deadly  locution.  I  saw  them  fashion  the  syllables  of  my 
name,  and  I  shuddered  because  no  sound  succeeded.  I  saw, 
too,  for  a  few  moments  of  delirious  horror,  the  soft  and  nearly 
imperceptible  waving  of  the  sable  draperies  which  enwrapped 
the  walls  of  the  apartment.  And  then  my  vision  fell  upon  the 
seven  tall  candles  upon  the  table.  At  first  they  wore  the 
aspect  of  charity,  and  seemed  white  slender  angels  who  would 
save  me;  but  then,  all  at  once,  there  came  a  most  deadly 
nausea  over  my  spirit,  and  I  felt  every  fibre  in  my  frame  thrill 
as  if  I  had  touched  the  wire  of  a  galvanic  battery,  while  the 
angel  forms  became  meaningless  spectres,  with  heads  of  flame, 
and  I  saw  that  from  them  there  would  be  no  help.  And  then 
there  stole  into  my  fancy,  like  a  rich  musical  note,  the  thought 
of  what  sweet  rest  there  must  be  in  the  grave." 

Edgar  Allan  Poe  was  born  in  Boston,  U.S.A.,  on  January 
19,  1809.  Certain  peculiarities  in  his  work  have  been  put 
down  to  racial  tendencies,  for  his  father,  though  American 
born,  was  of  Irish  descent.  But  we  notice  the  profession  of 
the  parents  as  a  fact  more  immediate  than  their  racial  deriva 
tion.  Both  parents  were  actors,  and  the  stage  seems  to  have 
been  in  keeping  with  certain  tendencies  in  the  father.  He 
seems  to  have  been  a  Bohemian,  or  rather  a  vagabond.  It  is 
said  that  he  had  made  an  imprudent  marriage;  it  is  fairly 
certain  that  he  deserted  his  wife  before  the  child  Edgar  was 
born.  The  mother  died  when  Poe  was  two  years  old,  and 
Edgar,  one  of  her  three  children,  was  adopted  by  a  childless 
pair,  the  Allans,  wealthy  Scotch  folk  of  Richmond  in  Virginia. 
Four  years  later  the  Allans  made  a  tour  through  Ireland, 
Scotland  and  England.  They  settled  in  England  for  a  while, 
and  young  Edgar  Allan,  now  six  years  of  age,  was  given  five 
years'  schooling  at  Stoke  Newington.  Ke  was  eleven  when 
he  returned  to  America  with  the  Allans,  and  we  hear  of  him 
afterwards  as  a  youngster  at  the  Richmond  school,  brilliant 
indeed,  but  defiant,  irritable  and  solitary — "  a  descendant  of  a 
race  whose  imaginative  and  easily  excitable  temperament  has 
at  all  times  rendered  them  remarkable,"  as  he  says,  in  what 
seems  to  be  an  autobiographical  note. 

Poe,  as  a  youth,  had  a  rare  aptitude  for  athletic  feats,  and 

Introduction  ix 

Baudelaire  notes  with  satisfaction  that,  though  made  with  the 
feet  and  hands  of  a  woman,  Poe  was  capable  of  great  muscular 
exertion;  as  a  youth  he  excelled  his  contemporaries  in  swim 
ming.  He  had  high  personal  distinction;  he  was  graceful, 
good-looking,  and  endowed  with  noticeable  eloquence.  He 
was  fond  of  dramatic  recitation.  Once  he  recited  some 
speeches  out  of  Julius  Ceesar,  impersonating  Cassius,  and  he 
gave  his  audience  the  impression  that  he  was  "a  born  actor." 
This  evidence  of  declamatory  power  is  interesting,  and  the 
reminiscence  of  the  theatre  accounts  for  a  great  deal  in  Poe's 
work.  At  seventeen  he  was  sent  to  the  University  of  Virginia. 
Here  he  won  high  honours  in  Latin  and  French,  but  within  a 
year  he  was  withdrawn  on  account  of  some  gambling  trans 
actions.  We  may  be  sure  that  Edgar  Allan  Poe  was  loth  to  let 
his  eighteenth  year  pass  unmarked ;  unlike  most  young  literary 
aspirants  he  succeeded  in  making  it  memorable.  He  went  up 
to  Boston  and  published  a  book — verse,  of  course — Tamer 
lane  and  Other  Poems  (1827).  Mr.  Allan  seems  to  have  in 
terested  himself  in  this  volume,  but  soon  after  the  publication 
of  Tamerlane  there  came  a  breach  between  the  poet  and  his 
patron.  Edgar  Allan  Poe  now  entered  the  army  of  the 
United  States,  and  in  two  years  he  had  risen  to  the  rank  of 
sergeant-major.  He  was  now  twenty;  his  foster-mother 
died,  and  then  there  came  a  reconciliation  between  Edgar  and 
Mr.  Allan.  In  1830  he  entered  the  College  at  West  Point  as 
a  military  cadet.  Meanwhile  (1829)  he  had  published  his 
second  volume.  It  contained  Tamerlane  (re- written)  and  Al 
Aaraaf.  His  conduct  at  the  Military  College  was  considered 
irregular,  and  he  was  dismissed  in  1 83 1 .  Affairs  had  now  taken 
a  serious  turn.  Mr.  Allan  had  married  again ;  this  time  he  was 
blessed  with  offspring,  and  his  wife  knew  not  Edgar  Allan. 
Poe  insisted  upon  seeing  his  foster-parent,  but  the  interview 
led  only  to  a  definite  breach.  When  he  left  Allan's  house  he 
seems  to  have  turned  his  back  on  settled  ways  of  living.  It  is 
curious  that  he  did  not  at  this  point  try  the  stage;  it  would 
have  fitted  his  temperament  and  his  gifts;  but  perhaps  the 
career  of  his  parents  had  biassed  him  against  the  theatre.  He 
published  a  third  book  of  verse,  poems  old  and  new,  and  we 
hear  of  him  next  in  Baltimore.  He  went  into  the  office  of  the 
Saturday  Visitor  to  claim  a  prize  he  had  won  with  the  story, 
A  MS.  found  in  a  Bottle,  and  it  was  noticed  that  his  coat  was 
fastened  to  hide  a  lack  of  shirt,  and  that  his  face  bore  traces  of 
illness  and  destitution.  Afterwards  he  got  an  engagement  on 

*   336 

x  Introduction 

the  Southern  Literary  Messenger,  and  he  returned  to  his  native 
Richmond.  It  was  in  The  Messenger  that  he  first  published 
the  studies  Berenice  and  Morella,  reveries  belonging  to  the 
Ligeia  group,  and  connected  in  theme  with  The  MS.  found  in 
a  Bottle,  and  the  splendid  Fall  of  the  House  of  Usher.  He  did 
literary  criticisms  for  this  paper  and  eventually  became 
assistant  editor.  At  twenty-six  he  married  his  cousin, 
Virginia  Clemm,  a  girl  of  fourteen.  He  made  some  reputation 
in  Richmond,  but  he  left  the  place  in  1837,  sanguine  of  a  New 
York  success.  The  New  York  Review,  however,  did  little  for 
him,  and  Poe  and  his  wife  had  to  move  on  to  Philadelphia. 
There  he  published  various  tales,  including  Ligeia,  William 
Wilson,  and  The  Fall  of  the  House  of  Usher.  In  1839,  Tales  of 
the  Grotesque  and  the  Arabesque,  Poe's  first  collection,  were 
given  to  the  public,  and  then  for  a  while  he  occupied  himself 
with  analytical  subjects,  writing  a  great  deal  about  crypto 
grams,  and  exercising  bis  extraordinary  analytical  talent  in 
solving  those  sent  to  the  paper.  His  power  of  analysis  enabled 
him  to  invent  something  new  in  the  narrative  form,  The 
Murders  in  the  Rue  Morgue,  contributed  to  Graham's  Magazine 
in  April  1841.  This  remarkable  story  was  followed  by  A 
Descent  into  the  Maelstrom.  By  this  time  he  had  won  a  place 
for  himself  in  Philadelphia;  he  was  the  editor  of  Graham's 
Magazine,  and  he  was  known  as  the  author  of  some  tales  that 
had  made  a  stir  in  London  and  Paris. 

But  in  1842  he  left  Philadelphia  under  the  influence  of  a 
tragedy  more  pitiful  and  terrible  than  any  tragedy  in  literary 
history.  His  wife  had  burst  a  blood  vessel  while  singing. 
Poe  took  leave  of  her  for  ever.  He  underwent  all  the  agonies 
of  her  death,  but  she  recovered  and  he  was  delivered  to  the 
torture  of  hope.  The  vessel  broke  again,  and  again,  and  even 
once  again!  He  drank  to  escape  from  the  terrible  suspense. 
He  was  a  man  sensitive  and  nervous  to  an  abnormal  degree, 
and  he  loved  his  wife  with  a  passion  that  went  beyond  the 
grave.  "  I  became  insane,"  he  said,  "  with  long  intervals  of 
horrible  sanity.  ...  I  drank — God  only  knows  how  often  or 
how  much.  As  a  matter  of  course  my  enemies  referred  the 
insanity  to  the  drink  rather  than  the  drink  to  the  insanity." 
He  could  do  no  work  under  those  agonising  conditions,  and  he 
lost  the  editorship  of  Graham's  Magazine.  His  wife  died  in 
1847.  Poe  was  only. thirty-eight,  but  his  life  was  over.  He 
occupied  himself  with  a  work  which  was  to  explain  the  uni 
verse,  Eureka.  We  can  say  of  Eureka  that  it  gave  its  author 

Introduction  xi 

solace,  and  that  it  is  a  medley  which  Baudelaire  has  taken 
seriously.  He  died  on  October  8,  1849,  and  his  end  must  have 
seemed  the  height  of  tragic  mockery  to  the  divine  spectator  of 
the  pessimists.  He  came  into  New  York  city  and  fell  in  with 
a  gang  of  ruffians  who  were  rushing  some  election  business. 
They  seized  the  unfortunate  man,  plied  him  with  drink,  put 
papers  into  his  hand  and  dragged  him  round  the  booths.  His 
friends  found  him  dying  in  some  sordid  place.  It  remains  to 
be  said  that  his  Literary  executor  disapproved  of  Poe's  tempera 
ment  and  Poe's  methods.  And  he  treated  the  poet  with  a 
rigour  that  reads  like  malignity. 


There  is  a  distinction  seldom  made  in  criticism  between  the 
short  story  and  the  tale.  This  distinction  can  best  be  seen  in 
examples;  thus  Maupassant's  Vain  Beauty  is  a  short  story, 
and  A  Piece  of  String  by  the  same  author  is  a  tale.  There  is  a 
difference  in  the  extent  of  the  narratives,  and  there  is  a  differ 
ence  in  the  value  of  the  respective  incidents  upon  which  the 
narratives  are  based.  A  Piece  of  String  could  not  be  ex 
panded  by  "  complications  and  diversities  of  many  episodes 
and  details  "  without  attributing  to  the  incident  "  an  import 
ance  which,  socially  and  historically,  it  does  not  possess." 
But  the  incident  in  Vain  Beauty  might  be  expanded  without 
investing  it  with  an  undue  importance.  It  is  curious  that 
M.  Bruneti^re  (whose  notes  on  the  NOUVELLE  I  have  been 
quoting),  does  not  make  a  distinction  between  the  short 
story  and  the  tale.  His  notes  apply  to  the  tale  rather  than 
to  the  short  story.  Yet  though  the  substance  of  the  tale 
is  amongst  "  peculiarities  or  variations  of  passion,"  it  is 
not  the  less  effective  on  this  account.  It  is  the  most 
ancient  of  compositions,  the  most  wide -spread,  the  most 
immediately  interesting;  through  its  brevity  it  can  be  made 
the  most  perfect  of  prose  forms.  Edgar  Allan  Poe  was  well 
aware  of  the  high  place  that  the  tale  must  always  hold  in 
literature,  and  his  intimate  knowledge  of  exceptional  things, 
together  with  his  sense  of  form  and  language,  have  enabled 
him  to  produce  some  of  the  world's  best  tales — The  Cask  of 
Amontillado,  The  Pit  and  the  Pendulum,  The  Fall  of  the  House 
of  Usher,  The  Murders  in  the  Rue  Morgue,  The  Gold  Bug, 
William  Wilson,  Ligeia.  In  The  Murders  in  the  Rut  Morgu* 

xii  Introduction 

and  in  The  Gold  Bug,  Poe  brought  a  new  and  fascinating  method 
into  the  narrative — a  method  which  has  been  re-discovered  in 
our  own  day  and  used  with  much  public  success.  The  Cask  of 
A  montillado,  The  Pit  and  the  Pendulum,  and  Ligeia  are  so  rounded 
and  so  perfect  that  they  offer  no  crevice  for  the  critical  knife. 
William  Wilson  is  perhaps  the  least  impeccable  of  these  tales ; 
one  notices  a  certain  staginess  here — a  theatricality  that 
flaunts  out  in  the  speech  of  the  last  encounter.  "  Scoundrel," 
I  said,  in  a  voice  husky  with  rage  ..."  Scoundrel,  impostor, 
accursed  villain!  You  shall  not — you  shall  not  dog  me  unto 
death!  Follow  me,  or  I  will  stab  you  where  you  stand." 
The  theatricality  in  this  speech  is  but  the  excess  of  a  quality 
shown  abundantly  in  William  Wilson — the  quality  of  drama 
tisation.  All  the  speeches  carry  across  the  footlights  and  all 
the  situations  are  visualised  as  if  for  the  stage.  But  the  situa 
tions  and  speeches  in  William  Wilson  are  not  the  most  notice 
able  instance  of  Poe's  faculty  for  dramatisation.  There  is 
that  memorable  scene  which  prepares  the  reader  for  the  tragic 
return  of  the  Lady  Madeline  in  The  Fall  of  the  House  of  Usher. 
This  scene  is  conceived  as  a  dramatist  would  conceive  it.  The 
reading  of  the  romance,  the  stressing  of  the  passages  which 
correspond  with  the  unseen  drama  is  a  device  well  known  to 
the  dramatist.  Poe  has  the  dramatist's  faculty  for  projecting 
situations  and  he  has  also  the  faculty  of  anticipating  difficul 
ties  that  are  peculiar  to  the  dramatic  action.  Several  instances 
of  this  could  be  given  from  the  tales  that  follow — instances  of 
that  suspended  or  retrospective  action  which  is  more  necessary 
in  a  play  than  in  a  narrative.  The  theatre  would,  I  am  con 
vinced,  have  given  full  scope  for  Poe's  genius.  He  could  not 
have  reached  it  through  his  poetic  talent,  but  he  could  have 
reached  it  through  the  invention  which  he  has  shown  hi  The 
Cask  of  Amontillado.  Poe  could  have  done  perfectly  a  form 
of  work  which  perhaps  he  had  no  models  for  at  the  time — the 
"  thrill  "  of  the  French  vaudeville.  It  is  a  matter  for  regret 
that  he  did  not  come  into  contact  with  the  theatre;  for,  with 
his  delight  hi  novelty,  with  his  wonderful  ingenuity,  he  could 
have  added  many  devices  to  the  dramatist's  stock.  But  his 
spirit  has  not  been  quite  shut  out  from  the  theatre.  Surely 
the  dramatist  of  the  Plays  for  Marionettes  owes  a  good  deal  to 
The  House  of  Usher,  with  its  elaborate  atmosphere,  and  its 
remote  and  agonising  situations. 

In  considering  the  drama  of  The  Fall  of  the  House  of  Usher, 
we  are  brought  into  contact  with  Poe's  dominant  idea.     Part 

Introduction  xiii 

of  this  idea  is  expressed  explicitly  in  his  favourite  tale,  Ligeia. 
Ligeia  belongs  to  that  group  of  studies  of  which  Eleanor  a  is 
the  most  charming,  Berenice  the  most  repulsive,  and  Moretta 
the  least  noteworthy.  Ligeia  is  less  a  tale  than  a  prose  poem ; 
it  is  a  reverie,  a  meditation  upon  that  mystical  sentence  of 
Joseph  Glanville's — "  And  the  will  therein  lieth,  which  dieth 
not.  Who  knoweth  the  mysteries  of  the  will,  with  its  vigour  ? 
For  God  is  but  a  great  will  pervading  all  things  by  nature  of  its 
intentness.  Man  doth  not  yield  himself  to  the  angels,  nor 
unto  death  utterly,  save  only  through  the  weakness  of  his 
feeble  will."  It  was  Poe's  conviction  that  consciousness  per 
sisted  even  in  the  grave,  and  that  the  will,  because  of  some 
great  passion,  could  resist  dissolution,  and  that  the  persistence 
of  the  human  will  gave  sentience  to  inanimate  things.  Thus 
the  walls  of  the  house  of  Usher  and  the  tarn  beyond  have  been 
given  a  sort  of  organisation  and  in  A  MS.  found  in  a  Bottle  the 
ship  that  holds  the  ancient  voyagers  has  grown  in  bulk. 

Poe's  mentality  was  a  rare  synthesis;  he  had  elements  in 
him  that  corresponded  with  the  indefiniteness  of  music  and 
the  exactitude  of  mathematics.  He  was  a  penetrating  critic 
of  literature,  and  he  could  have  written  well  on  aesthetics  and 
psychology ;  I  have  already  dwelt  upon  his  sense  of  the  theatre. 
He  desired  to  be  striking  and  original  as  the  great  creators 
desire  to  be  sincere,  and  because  of  that  rare  synthesis  of  his 
mind  (helped  out,  it  must  be  said,  by  a  wonderful  ingenuity), 
he  succeeded  in  making  forms  and  formulas  that  have  in- 
iiuenced  a  definite  side  of  literature.  His  often-quoted  dictum 
that  poetry  cannot  be  sustained  in  the  epic  form  has  forced 
many  poets  (Whitman  amongst  them)  to  reconsider  the  poetic 
form.  His  achievements  in  verse  and  his  theories  of  versifi 
cation  influenced  an  important  literary  movement  in  France, 
and  that  movement  has  reacted  on  contemporary  English 
literature.  He  made  the  idea  of  "  atmosphere  "  self-conscious 
in  literary  art.  The  Murders  in  the  Rue  Morgue  and  William 
Wilson  have  been  models  for  such  diverse  writers  as  Conan 
Doyle  and  Oscar  Wilde.  He  is  popularly  regarded  as  the  type 
of  the  imaginative  man,  but  those  who  have  come  into  contact 
with  his  mind  have  reason  to  believe  that  his  critical  faculties 
were  in  excess  of  his  imaginative  and  creative  faculties.  In 
The  Domain  of  Arnheim  he  says  some  subtle  thing  on  our  ideas 
of  the  beautiful.  His  aesthetics,  however,  are  a  little  strained 
by  the  undue  importance  he  gives  to  strangeness  as  an  element 
of  beauty.  He  was  a  psychologist  in  the  critical  rather  than 

xiv  Introduction 

In  the  creative  sense,  and  had  a  deep  knowledge  of  the  mental 
movements  connected  with  fear.  In  Arthur  Gordon  Pym  he 
has  some  enlightening  observations  on  the  effect  of  a  ghostly 

"  Usually,  in  cases  of  a  similar  nature,  there  is  left  in  the 
mind  of  the  spectator  some  glimmering  of  doubt  as  to  the 
reality  of  the  vision  before  his  eyes ;  a  degree  of  hope,  however 
feeble,  that  he  is  the  victim  of  chicanery,  and  that  the  appari 
tion  is  not  actually  a  visitant  from  the  old  world  of  shadows. 
It  is  not  too  much  to  say  that  such  remnants  of  doubt  have 
been  at  the  bottom  of  almost  every  such  visitation,  and  that 
the  appalling  horror  which  has  sometimes  been  brought  about 
is  to  be  attributed,  even  in  the  cases  most  in  point,  and  where 
most  suffering  has  been  experienced,  more  to  a  kind  of  anti- 
cipative  horror,  lest  the  apparition  might  possibly  be  real,  than 
to  an  unwavering  belief  in  its  reality." 

This  reads  like  an  authentic  pronouncement  from  a  chair 
of  psychology.  And  in  The  Fall  of  the  House  of  Usher  he  has 
a  sentence  which  anticipates,  even  in  its  formal  presentment, 
a  recently  formulated  law  of  the  American  psychologists — 
"  There  can  be  no  doubt  that  the  consciousness  of  the  rapid 
increase  of  iny  superstition  .  .  .  served  mainly  to  accelerate 
the  increase  itself.  Such,  I  have  long  known,  is  the  para 
doxical  law  of  all  sentiments  having  terror  as  a  basis." 

Edgar  Allan  Poe  has  written  some  gloomy  tales  and  several 
morbid  tales,  but  his  lines, 

"  The  play  is  the  tragedy  Man, 
And  the  hero  the  conquering  Worm," 

do  not  represent  his  normal  opinion.  He  has  told  us  that 
"  in  general,  it  is  from  the  violation  of  a  few  simple  laws  of 
humanity,  arises  the  wretchedness  of  mankind — that  as  a 
species  we  have  in  our  possession  the  as  yet  unwrought 
elements  of  content."  His  Mr.  Ellison  admitted  but  four 
principles  or  conditions  of  bliss — free  exercise  in  the  open  air. 
the  love  of  some  lovable  woman,  a  contempt  of  ambition,  and 
an  object  of  unceasing  pursuit.  "  He  held  that,  other  things 
being  equal,  the  extent  of  attainable  happiness  was  in  propor 
tion  to  the  spirituality  of  this  object." 



April  1908. 

Introduction  xv 

The  following  is  a  list  of  his  published  works: — 

Tamerlane  and  other  Poems,  1827;  new  edition  with  additions,  "  Al 
Aaraaf,  Tamerlane,  and  Minor  Poems,"  1829;  Poems,  1831;  A  Manuscript 
found  in  a  Bottle  (prize  tale  for  the  Baltimore  Saturday  Visitor),  1833; 
Coliseum,  Poem,  1833  (prize  poem  for  same,  but  ruled  out  as  being  by 
author  of  prize  tale) ;  Narrative  of  Arthur  Gordon  Pyrn  (partly  from  the 
Messenger,  1838;  Conchologist's  First  Book  (from  Thomas  Wyatt's 
Manual  of  Conchology),  1839;  Tales  of  the  Grotesque  and  the  Arabesque, 
1839;  Prediction  of  the  Plot  of  Barnaby  Rudge  (Saturday  Evening  Post), 
1841;  Murders  in  the  Rue  Morgue  (Graham's  Magazine),  1841;  The  Gold 
Bug  (prize  offered  by  the  Dollar  Newspaper),  1843;  Balloon  Hoax  (in  the 
Sun),  1844;  Tales,  1845;  The  Raven  (Evening  Mirror),  1845;  The  Raven 
and  other  Poems,  1845 ;  Eureka,  a  prose  Poem  (elaborated  from  his  lecture 
on  the  Cosmogony  of  the  Universe),  1848. 

Some  of  Poe's  best  tales  and  poems  were  first  published  in  the  Southern 
Literary  Messenger,  1835,  of  which  magazine  he  became  editor,  but  resigned 
the  post  in  1837;  other  tales  appeared  in  Graham's  Magazine,  of  which 
fie  was  for  a  time  editor-in-chief.  He  was  also  a  contributor  to  the  New 
York  Review,  Broadway  Journal,  and  Godey's  Lady's  Book. 

WORKS. — First  collection,  ed.  R.  W.  Griswold  (with  memoir),  three  vols., 
1850;  four  vols.,  1856;  ed.  H.  Curwen  (with  life  from  French  of  C.  Baude 
laire),  1872;  R.  H.  Stoddard  (with  memoir),  1873,  1884,  1896;  J.  H. 
Ingram  (with  memoir),  1874-5;  newly  collected  and  edited  by  E.  C.  Sted- 
man  and  G.  E.  Woodberry,  1895;  in  World's  Classics,  1902,  etc. 

Poetical  works,  ed.  J .  Hannay,  1852,  1863;  E.  F.  Blanchard,  1857;  C.  F. 
Briggs,  1858;  Memorial  edition,  Poems  and  Essays  (including  memoir), 
by  J.  H.  Ingram,  Prof.  Lowell,  and  Willis,  1876*  Poems  and  Essays,  with 
an  essay  on  his  poetry  by  Andrew  Lang,  1881;  Poems  and  Essays,  ed. 
Lfgram,  1884;  with  biographical  sketch  by  N.  H.  Dole,  1895,  1905;  with 
introduction  by  H.  N.  Williams,  1900;  with  critical  memoir  by  S.  Cody, 
1903;  with  introduction  by  Arthur  Symons,  1904;  and  other  editions  in 
collections  of  classics. 

LIFE. — Sarah  H.  Whitman,  "Edgar  Poe  and  His  Critics,"  1859;  E.  L. 
Didier,  1876;  W.  F.  Gill,  1877;  J.  H.  Ingram,  "Life,  Letters,  and 
Opinions,"  1880;  G.  E.  Woodberry  (American  Men  of  Letters),  1885;  J. 
A.  Joyce,  1901;  J.  A.  Harrison.  "  Life  and  Letters,"  1903. 





THE  DOMAIN  OF  ARNHEIM           .......  3* 

LANDOR'S  COTTAGE    .....••••45 

THE  ELK 56 

THE  ISLAND  OF  THE  FAY  ........60 



THE  MAN  OF  THE  CROWD            .......  101 

SHADOW    ...........  109 

SILENCE    .         .         .         .         .         .         •         •         •         •         .HI 

THE  COLLOQUY  OF  MONOS  AND  UNA  ......  115 



THE  ASSIGNATION       .........  145 

LlGEIA         ...........  155 

/  ELEONORA          ..........  169 

BERENICE           ..........  i?5 

MORELLA  ...........  182 



THE  MASQUE  OF  THE  RED  DEATH      ......  201 

/THE  CASK  OF  AMONTILLADO        .......  207 

METZENGERSTEIN        .          ........  213 



A  DESCENT  INTO  THE  MAKLSTRSM      ......  243 

MS.  FOUND  IN  A  BOTTLE  ........  258 

THE  PREMATURE  BURIAL   ........  268 

THE  FACTS  IN  THE  CASE  OF  M.  VALDEMAR          ....  280 

THX  TELL-TALE  HEART      ........  289 


2  Contents 


MELLONTA  TAUTA       .........  294 

THK  THOUSAND-AND-SECOND  TALE  OF  SCHEHERAZADB           .         .  307 

TRZ  OBLONG  Box 323 

THE  SPECTACLES         .........  333 

X-INO  A  PARAGRAB    .         .        .».        •         .         .         .         .         .  355 

THE  IMP  or  THE  PERVERSE        .•'•'»  u ;  .         .         .         .         .  361 

THS  BALLOON  HOAX          ........  367 

/  THB  MURDERS  IN  THE  RUE  MORGUB           .....  378 

THE  MYSTERY  OF  MARIE  ROGIT   .*.         .         .         .         .  410 

THS  PURLOINED  LETTER    ........  454 

"THOU  ART  THE  MAN"      ........  471 

Loss  OF  BREATH 484 

BON-BON            ..         .         .         .         .         .         .         .         .  496 


THE  BLACK  CAT ;,-.•;*-•.'..    •  518 



What  say  of  it?  what  say  of  CONSCIENCE  grim, 
That  spectre  in  my  path  ? 

CHAMBERLAYNE'S  Pharronida. 

LET  me  call  myself,  for  the  present,  William  Wilson.  The  fair 
page  now  lying  before  me  need  not  be  sullied  with  my  real  appel 
lation.  This  has  been  already  too  much  an  object  for  the  scorn 
— for  the  horror — for  the  detestation  of  my  race.  To  the 
uttermost  regions  of  the  globe  have  not  the  indignant  winds 
bruited  its  unparalleled  infamy?  Oh,  outcast  of  all  outcasts 
most  abandoned ! — to  the  earth  art  thou  not  forever  dead  ?  to 
its  honours,  to  its  flowers,  to  its  golden  aspirations? — and  a 
cloud,  dense,  dismal,  and  limitless,  does  it  not  hang  eternally 
between  thy  hopes  and  heaven? 

I  would  not,  if  I  could,  here  or  to-day,  embody  a  record  of 
my  later  years  of  unspeakable  misery,  and  unpardonable  crime. 
This  epoch — these  later  years — took  unto  themselves  a  sudden 
elevation  in  turpitude,  whose  origin  alone  it  is  my  present  pur 
pose  to  assign.  Men  usuallly  grow  base  by  degrees.  From  me, 
in  an  instant,  all  virtue  dropped  bodily  as  a  mantle.  From 
comparatively  trivial  wickedness  I  passed,  with  the  stride  of  a 
giant,  into  more  than  the  enormities  of  an  Elah-Gabalus.  What 
chance — what  one  event  brought  this  evil  thing  to  pass,  bear 
with  me  while  I  relate.  Death  approaches;  and  the  shadow 
which  foreruns  him  has  thrown  a  softening  influence  over  my 
spirit.  I  long,  in  passing  through  the  dim  valley,  for  the  sym 
pathy — I  had  nearly  said  for  the  pity — of  my  fellow-men.  I 
would  fain  have  them  believe  that  I  have  been,  in  some  measure, 
the  slave  of  circumstances  beyond  human  control.  I  would 
wish  them  to  seek  out  for  me,  in  the  details  I  am  about  to  give, 
some  little  oasis  of  fatality  amid  a  wilderness  of  error.  I  would 
have  them  allow — what  they  cannot  refrain  from  allowing — 
that,  although  temptation  may  have  erewhile  existed  as  great, 
man  was  never  thus,  at  least,  tempted  before — certainly,  never 


4  Poe's  Tales 

thus  fell.  And  is  it  therefore  that  he  has  never  thus  suffered  ? 
Have  I  not  indeed  been  living  in  a  dream  ?  And  am  I  not  now 
dying  a  victim  to  the  horror  and  the  mystery  of  the  wildest  of  all 
sublunary  visions? 

I  am  the  descendant  of  a  race  whose  imaginative  and  easily 
excitable  temperament  has  at  all  times  rendered  them  remark 
able;  and,  in  my  earliest  infancy,  I  gave  evidence  of  having 
fully  inherited  the  family  character.  As  I  advanced  in  years  it 
was  more  strongly  developed;  becoming,  for  many  reasons,  a 
cause  of  serious  disquietude  to  my  friends,  and  of  positive  injury 
to  myself.  I  grew  self-willed,  addicted  to  the  wildest  caprices, 
and  a  prey  to  the  most  ungovernable  passions.  Weak-minded, 
and  beset  with  constitutional  infirmities  akin  to  my  own,  my 
parents  could  do  but  little  to  check  the  evil  propensities  which 
distinguished  me.  Some  feeble  and  ill-directed  efforts  resulted 
in  complete  failure  on  their  part,  and,  of  course,  in  total  triumph 
on  mine.  Thenceforward  my  voice  was  a  household  law;  and 
at  an  age  when  few  children  have  abandoned  their  leading- 
strings,  I  was  left  to  the  guidance  of  my  own  will,  and  became, 
in  all  but  name,  the  master  of  my  own  actions. 

My  earliest  recollections  of  a  school-life,  are  connected  with  a 
large,  rambling,  Elizabethan  house,  in  a  misty-looking  village  of 
England,  where  were  a  vast  number  of  gigantic  and  gnarled  trees, 
and  where  all  the  houses  were  excessively  ancient.  In  truth,  it 
was  a  dream-like  and  spirit-soothing  place,  that  venerable  old 
town.  At  this  moment,  in  fancy,  I  feel  the  refreshing  chilliness 
of  its  deeply-shadowed  avenues,  inhale  the  fragrance  of  its  thou 
sand  shrubberies,  and  thrill  anew  with  undefinable  delight,  at 
the  deep  hollow  note  of  the  church-bell,  breaking,  each  hour, 
with  sullen  and  sudden  roar,  upon  the  stillness  of  the  dusky 
atmosphere  in  which  the  fretted  Gothic  steeple  lay  imbedded 
and  asleep. 

It  gives  me,  perhaps,  as  much  of  pleasure  as  I  can  now  in  any 
manner  experience,  to  dwell  upon  minute  recollections  of  the 
school  and  its  concerns.  Steeped  in  misery  as  I  am — misery, 
alas  1  only  too  real — I  shall  be  pardoned  for  seeking  relief,  how 
ever  slight  and  temporary,  in  the  weakness  of  a  few  rambling 
details.  These,  moreover,  utterly  trivial,  and  even  ridiculous 
in  themselves,  assume,  to  my  fancy,  adventitious  importance,  as 
connected  with  a  period  and  a  locality  when  and  where  I  recog 
nise  the  first  ambiguous  monitions  of  the  destiny  which  after 
wards  so  fully  overshadowed  me.  Let  me  then  remember. 

The  house,  I  have  said,  was  old  and  irregular.    The  grounds 

William  Wilson  5 

were  extensive,  and  a  high  and  solid  brick  wall,  topped  with  a 
bed  of  mortar  and  broken  glass,  encompassed  the  whole.  This 
prison-like  rampart  formed  the  limit  of  our  domain;  beyond  it 
we  saw  but  thrice  a  week — once  every  Saturday  afternoon,  when, 
attended  by  two  ushers,  we  were  permitted  to  take  brief  walks 
in  a  body  through  some  of  the  neighbouring  fields — and  twice 
during  Sunday,  when  we  were  paraded  in  the  same  formal 
manner  to  the  morning  and  evening  service  in  the  one  church 
of  the  village.  Of  this  church  the  principal  of  our  school  was 
pastor.  With  how  deep  a  spirit  of  wonder  and  perplexity  was  I 
wont  to  regard  him  from  our  remote  pew  in  the  gallery,  as,  with 
step  solemn  and  slow,  he  ascended  the  pulpit!  This  reverend 
man,  with  countenance  so  demurely  benign,  with  robes  so  glossy 
and  so  clerically  flowing,  with  wig  so  minutely  powdered,  so 
rigid  and  so  vast, — could  this  be  he  who,  of  late,  with  sour  visage, 
and  in  snuffy  habiliments,  administered,  ferule  in  hand,  the 
Draconian  laws  of  the  academy?  Oh,  gigantic  paradox,  too 
utterly  monstrous  for  solution! 

At  an  angle  of  the  ponderous  wall  frowned  a  more  ponderous 
gate.  It  was  riveted  and  studded  with  iron  bolts,  and  sur 
mounted  with  jagged  iron  spikes.  What  impressions  of  deep 
awe  did  it  inspire!  It  was  never  opened  save  for  the  three 
periodical  egressions  and  ingressions  already  mentioned;  then, 
in  every  creak  of  its  mighty  hinges,  we  found  a  plenitude  of 
mystery — a  world  of  matter  for  solemn  remark,  or  for  more 
solemn  meditation. 

The  extensive  enclosure  was  irregular  in  form,  having  many 
capacious  recesses.  Of  these,  three  or  four  of  the  largest  con 
stituted  the  play-ground.  It  was  level,  and  covered  with  fine 
hard  gravel.  I  well  remember  it  had  no  trees,  nor  benches,  nor 
anything  similar  within  it.  Of  course  it  was  in  the  rear  of  the 
house.  In  front  lay  a  small  parterre,  planted  with  box  and 
other  shrubs;  but  through  this  sacred  division  we  passed  only 
upon  rare  occasions  indeed — such  as  a  first  advent  to  school  or 
final  departure  thence,  or  perhaps,  when  a  parent  or  friend 
having  called  for  us,  we  joyfully  took  our  way  home  for  the 
Christmas  or  Midsummer  holidays. 

But  the  house! — how  quaint  an  old  building  was  this! — to 
me  how  veritably  a  palace  of  enchantment!  There  was  really 
no  end  to  its  windings — to  its  incomprehensible  subdivisions. 
It  was  difficult,  at  any  given  time,  to  say  with  certainty  upon 
which  of  its  two  stories  one  happened  to  be.  From  each  room 
to  every  other  there  were  sure  to  be  found  three  or  four  steps 

6  Poc's  Tales 

either  in  ascent  or  descent.  Then  the  lateral  branches  were  in 
numerable — inconceivable — and  so  returning  in  upon  them 
selves,  that  our  most  exact  ideas  in  regard  to  the  whole  mansion 
were  not  very  far  different  from  those  with  which  we  pondered 
upon  infinity.  During  the  five  years  of  my  residence  here,  I 
was  never  able  to  ascertain  with  precision,  in  what  remote 
locality  lay  the  little  sleeping  apartment  assigned  to  myself  and 
some  eighteen  or  twenty  other  scholars. 

The  school-room  was  the  largest  in  the  house — I  could  not 
help  thinking,  in  the  world.  It  was  very  long,  narrow,  and 
dismally  low,  with  pointed  Gothic  windows  and  a  ceiling  of  oak. 
In  a  remote  and  terror-inspiring  angle  was  a  square  enclosure 
of  eight  or  ten  feet,  comprising  the  sanctum,  "  during  hours," 
of  our  principal,  the  Reverend  Dr.  Bransby.  It  was  a  solid 
structure,  with  massy  door,  sooner  than  open  which  in  the 
absence  of  the  "  Dominie,"  we  would  all  have  willingly  perished 
by  the  peine  forte  et  dure.  In  other  angles  were  two  other  simi 
lar  boxes,  far  less  reverenced,  indeed,  but  still  greatly  matters 
of  awe.  One  of  these  was  the  pulpit  of  the  "  classical  "  usher, 
one  of  the  "  English  and  mathematical."  Interspersed  about 
the  room,  crossing  and  recrossing  in  endless  irregularity,  were 
innumerable  benches  and  desks,  black,  ancient,  and  time- 
worn,  piled  desperately  with  much-bethumbed  books,  and  so 
beseamed  with  initial  letters,  names  at  full  length,  grotesque 
figures,  and  other  multiplied  efforts  of  the  knife,  as  to  have 
entirely  lost  what  little  of  original  form  might  have  been  their 
portion  in  days  long  departed.  A  huge  bucket  with  water 
stood  at  one  extremity  of  the  room,  and  a  clock  of  stupendous 
dimensions  at  the  other. 

Encompassed  by  the  massy  walls  of  this  venerable  academy, 
I  passed,  yet  not  in  tedium  or  disgust,  the  years  of  the  third 
lustrum  of  my  life.  The  teeming  brain  of  childhood  requires  no 
external  world  of  incident  to  occupy  or  amuse  it;  and  the  appar 
ently  dismal  monotony  of  a  school  was  replete  with  more  intense 
excitement  than  my  riper  youth  has  derived  from  luxury,  or 
my  full  manhood  from  crime.  Yet  I  must  believe  that  my  first 
mental  development  had  in  it  much  of  the  uncommon — even 
much  of  the  outre.  Upon  mankind  at  large  the  events  of  very 
early  existence  rarely  leave  in  mature  age  any  definite  impression. 
All  is  grey  shadow — a  weak  and  irregular  remembrance — an 
indistinct  regathering  of  feeble  pleasures  and  phantasmagoric 
pains.  With  me  this  is  not  so.  In  childhood  I  must  have  felt 
with  the  energy  of  a  man  what  I  now  find  stamped  upon  memory 

William  Wilson  7 

in  lines  as  vivid,  as  deep,  and  as  durable  as  the  exergues  of  the 
Carthaginian  medals. 

Yet  in  fact — in  the  fact  of  the  world's  view — how  little  was 
there  to  remember!  The  morning's  awakening,  the  nightly 
summons  to  bed;  the  connings,  the  recitations;  the  periodical 
half -holidays,  and  perambulations;  the  play-ground,  with  its 
broils,  its  pastimes,  its  intrigues; — these,  by  a  mental  sorcery 
long  forgotten,  were  made  to  involve  a  wilderness  of  sensation,  a 
world  of  rich  incident,  an  universe  of  varied  emotion,  of  excite 
ment  the  most  passionate  and  spirit-stirring.  "Oh,  le  bon 
temps,  que  ce  siecle  de  fer  I  " 

In  truth,  the  ardour,  the  enthusiasm,  and  the  imperiousness 
of  my  disposition,  soon  rendered  me  a  marked  character  among 
my  schoolmates,  and  by  slow,  but  natural  gradations,  gave 
me  an  ascendency  over  all  not  greatly  older  than  myself; — over 
all  with  a  single  exception.  This  exception  was  found  in  the 
person  of  a  scholar,  who,  although  no  relation,  bore  the  same 
Christian  and  surname  as  myself; — a  circumstance,  in  fact, 
little  remarkable;  for,  notwithstanding  a  noble  descent,  mine 
was  one  of  those  every-day  appellations  which  seem,  by  pre 
scriptive  right,  to  have  been,  time  out  of  mind,  the  common 
property  of  the  mob.  In  this  narrative  I  have  therefore  desig 
nated  myself  as  William  Wilson, — a  fictitious  title  not  very  dis 
similar  to  the  real.  My  namesake  alone,  of  those  who  in  school 
phraseology  constituted  "  our  set,"  presumed  to  compete  with 
me  in  the  studies  of  the  class — in  the  sports  and  broils  of  the 
play-ground — to  refuse  implicit  belief  in  my  assertions,  and 
submission  to  my  will — indeed,  to  interfere  with  my  arbitrary 
dictation  in  any  respect  whatsoever.  If  there  is  on  earth  a 
supreme  and  unqualified  despotism,  it  is  the  despotism  of  a 
master  mind  in  boyhood  over  the  less  energetic  spirits  of  its 

Wilson's  rebellion  was  to  me  a  source  of  the  greatest  em 
barrassment; — the  more  so  as,  in  spite  of  the  bravado  with 
which  in  public  I  made  a  point  of  treating  him  and  his  pre 
tensions,  I  secretly  felt  that  I  feared  him,  and  could  not  help 
thinking  the  equality  which  he  maintained  so  easily  with  myself, 
a  proof  of  his  true  superiority;  since  not  to  be  overcome  cost 
me  a  perpetual  struggle.  Yet  this  superiority  —  even  this 
equality — was  in  truth  acknowledged  by  no  one  but  myself; 
our  associates,  by  some  unaccountable  blindness,  seemed  not 
even  to  suspect  it.  Indeed,  his  competition,  his  resistance, 
and  especially  his  impertinent  and  dogged  interference  with  my 

8  Poc's  Tales 

purposes,  were  not  more  pointed  than  private.  He  appeared 
to  be  destitute  alike  of  the  ambition  which  urged,  and  of  the 
passionate  energy  of  mind  which  enabled  me  to  excel.  In  his 
rivalry  he  might  have  been  supposed  actuated  solely  by  a 
whimsical  desire  to  thwart,  astonish,  or  mortify  myself; 
although  there  were  times  when  I  could  not  help  observing,  with 
a  feeling  made  up  of  wonder,  abasement,  and  pique,  that  he 
mingled  with  his  injuries,  his  insults,  or  his  contradictions,  a 
certain  most  inappropriate,  and  assuredly  most  unwelcome 
affectionateness  of  manner.  I  could  only  conceive  this  singular 
behaviour  to  arise  from  a  consummate  self-conceit  assuming 
the  vulgar  air  of  patronage  and  protection. 

Perhaps  it  was  this  latter  trait  in  Wilson's  conduct,  conjoined 
with  our  identity  of  name,  and  the  mere  accident  of  our  having 
entered  the  school  upon  the  same  day,  which  set  afloat  the 
notion  that  we  were  brothers,  among  the  senior  classes  in  the 
academy.  These  do  not  usually  inquire  with  much  strictness 
into  the  affairs  of  their  juniors.  I  have  before  said,  or  should 
have  said,  that  Wilson  was  not,  in  the  most  remote  degree, 
connected  with  my  family.  But  assuredly  if  we  had  been 
brothers  we  must  have  been  twins;  for,  after  leaving  Dr. 
Bransby's,  I  casually  learned  that  my  namesake  was  born  on 
the  nineteenth  of  January,  1813  —  and  this  is  a  somewhat 
remarkable  coincidence;  for  the  day  is  precisely  that  of  my 
own  nativity. 

It  may  seem  strange  that  in  spite  of  the  continual  anxiety 
occasioned  me  by  the  rivalry  of  Wilson,  and  his  intolerable 
spirit  of  contradiction,  I  could  not  bring  myself  to  hate  him 
altogether.  We  had,  to  be  sure,  nearly  every  day  a  quarrel  hi 
which,  yielding  me  publicly  the  palm  of  victory,  he,  in  some 
manner,  contrived  to  make  me  feel  that  it  was  he  who  had 
deserved  it;  yet  a  sense  of  pride  on  my  part,  and  a  veritable 
dignity  on  his  own,  kept  us  always  upon  what  are  called  "  speak 
ing  terms,"  while  there  were  many  points  of  strong  congeniality 
in  our  tempers,  operating  to  awake  hi  me  a  sentiment  which 
our  position  alone,  perhaps,  prevented  from  ripening  into 
friendship.  It  is  difficult,  indeed,  to  define,  or  even  to  describe, 
my  real  feelings  towards  him.  They  formed  a  motley  and 
heterogeneous  admixture; — some  petulant  animosity,  which 
was  not  yet  hatred,  some  esteem,  more  respect,  much  fear,  with 
a  world  of  uneasy  curiosity.  To  the  moralist  it  will  be  un 
necessary  to  say,  in  addition,  that  Wilson  and  myself  were  the 
most  inseparable  of  companions. 

William  Wilson  9 

It  was  no  doubt  the  anomalous  state  of  affairs  existing  be 
tween  us,  which  turned  all  my  attacks  upon  him  (and  they 
were  many,  either  open  or  covert)  into  the  channel  of  banter  or 
practical  joke  (giving  pain  while  assuming  the  aspect  of  mere 
fun)  rather  than  into  a  more  serious  and  determined  hostility. 
But  my  endeavours  on  this  head  were  by  no  means  uniformly 
successful,  even  when  my  plans  were  the  most  wittily  concocted ; 
for  my  namesake  had  much  about  him,  in  character,  of  that 
unassuming  and  quiet  austerity  which,  while  enjoying  the 
poignancy  of  its  own  jokes,  has  no  heel  of  Achilles  in  itself,  and 
absolutely  refuses  to  be  laughed  at.  I  could  find,  indeed,  but 
one  vulnerable  point,  and  that,  lying  in  a  personal  peculiarity, 
arising,  perhaps,  from  constitutional  disease,  would  have  been 
spared  by  any  antagonist  less  at  his  wit's  end  than  myself — 
my  rival  had  a  weakness  in  the  faucial  or  guttural  organs, 
which  precluded  him  from  raising  his  voice  at  any  time  above  a 
very  low  whisper.  Of  this  defect  I  did  not  fail  to  take  what 
poor  advantage  lay  in  my  power. 

Wilson's  retaliations  in  kind  were  many;  and  there  was  one 
form  of  his  practical  wit  that  disturbed  me  beyond  measure. 
How  his  sagacity  first  discovered  at  all  that  so  petty  a  thing 
would  vex  me,  is  a  question  I  never  could  solve;  but,  having 
discovered,  he  habitually  practised  the  annoyance.  I  had 
always  felt  aversion  to  my  uncourtly  patronymic,  and  its  very 
common,  if  not  plebeian  praenomen.  The  words  were  venom 
in  my  ears;  and  when,  upon  the  day  of  my  arrival,  a  second 
William  Wilson  came  also  to  the  academy,  I  felt  angry  with 
him  for  bearing  the  name,  and  doubly  disgusted  with  the  name 
because  a  stranger  bore  it,  who  would  be  the  cause  of  its  two 
fold  repetition,  who  would  be  constantly  in  my  presence,  and 
whose  concerns,  in  the  ordinary  routine  of  the  school  business, 
must  inevitably,  on  account  of  the  detestable  coincidence,  be 
often  confounded  with  my  own. 

The  feeling  of  vexation  thus  engendered  grew  stronger  with 
every  circumstance  tending  to  show  resemblance,  moral  or 
physical,  between  my  rival  and  myself.  I  had  not  then  dis 
covered  the  remarkable  fact  that  we  were  of  the  same  age ;  but 
I  saw  that  we  were  of  the  same  height,  and  I  perceived  that  we 
were  even  singularly  alike  in  general  contour  of  person  and  out 
line  of  feature.  I  was  galled,  too,  by  the  rumour  touching  a 
relationship,  which  had  grown  current  in  the  upper  forms.  In 
a  word,  nothing  could  more  seriously  disturb  me  (although  I 
scrupulously  concealed  such  disturbance),  than  any  allusion  to 

io  Poe's  Tales 

a  similailty  of  mind,  person,  or  condition  existing  between  us. 
But,  In  truth,  I  had  no  reason  to  believe  that  (with  the  excep 
tion  of  the  matter  of  relationship,  and  in  the  case  of  Wilson 
himself)  this  similarity  had  ever  been  made  a  subject  of  com 
ment,  or  even  observed  at  all  by  our  schoolfellows.  That  he 
observed  it  in  all  Its  bearings,  and  as  fixedly  as  I,  was  apparent; 
but  that  he  could  discover  In  such  circumstances  so  fruitful  a 
field  of  annoyance,  can  only  be  attributed,  as  I  said  before,  to 
his  more  than  ordinary  penetration. 

His  cue,  which  was  to  perfect  an  imitation  of  myself,  lay  both 
in  words  and  hi  actions;  and  most  admirably  did  he  play  his 
part.  My  dress  it  was  an  easy  matter  to  copy;  my  gait  and 
general  manner  were,  without  difficulty,  appropriated ;  in  spite 
of  his  constitutional  defect,  even  my  voice  did  not  escape  him. 
My  louder  tones  were,  of  course,  unattempted,  but  then  the  key, 
it  was  identical;  and  his  singular  whisper,  it  grew  the  very  echo 
»/  my  own. 

How  greatly  this  most  exquisite  portraiture  harassed  me  (for 
it  could  not  justly  be  termed  a  caricature),  I  will  not  now 
venture  to  describe.  I  had  but  one  consolation — In  the  fact  that 
the  imitation,  apparently,  was  noticed  by  myself  alone,  and 
that  I  had  to  endure  only  the  knowing  and  strangely  sarcastic 
smiles  of  my  namesake  himself.  Satisfied  with  having  pro 
duced  in  my  bosom  the  Intended  effect,  he  seemed  to  chuckle 
in  secret  over  the  sting  he  had  inflicted,  and  was  characteristi 
cally  disregardful  of  the  public  applause  which  the  success  of  his 
witty  endeavours  might  have  so  easily  elicited.  That  the 
school,  indeed,  did  not  feel  his  design,  perceive  its  accomplish 
ment,  and  participate  in  his  sneer,  was,  for  many  anxious 
months,  a  riddle  I  could  not  resolve.  Perhaps  the  gradation  of 
his  copy  rendered  it  not  so  readily  perceptible;  or,  more  possibly, 
I  owed  my  security  to  the  masterly  air  of  the  copyist,  who, 
disdaining  the  letter  (which  in  a  painting  is  all  the  obtuse  can 
see),  gave  but  the  full  spirit  of  his  original  for  my  individual 
contemplation  and  chagrin. 

I  have  already  more  than  once  spoken  of  the  disgusting  air 
of  patronage  which  he  assumed  toward  me,  and  of  his  frequent 
officious  interference  with  my  will.  This  interference  often  took 
the  ungracious  character  of  advice;  advice  not  openly  given, 
but  hinted  or  insinuated.  I  received  it  with  a  repugnance 
which  gained  strength  as  I  grew  in  years.  Yet,  at  this  distant 
day,  let  me  do  him  the  simple  justice  to  acknowledge  that  I  can 
recall  no  occasion  when  the  suggestions  of  my  rival  were  on  the 

William  Wilson  1 1 

side  of  those  errors  or  follies  so  usual  to  his  immature  age  and 
seeming  inexperience;  that  his  moral  sense,  at  least,  if  not  his 
general  talents  and  worldly  wisdom,  was  far  keener  than  my 
own;  and  that  I  might,  to-day,  have  been  a  better,  and  thus  a 
happier  man,  had  I  less  frequently  rejected  the  counsels  em 
bodied  in  those  meaning  whispers  which  I  then  but  too  cordially 
hated  and  too  bitterly  despised. 

As  it  was,  I  at  length  grew  restive  in  the  extreme  under  his 
distasteful  supervision,  and  daily  resented  more  and  more 
openly  what  I  considered  his  intolerable  arrogance.  I  have 
said  that,  in  the  first  years  of  our  connection  as  schoolmates,  my 
feelings  in  regard  to  him  might  have  been  easily  ripened  into 
friendship:  but,  in  the  latter  months  of  my  residence  at  the 
academy,  although  the  intrusion  of  his  ordinary  manner  had, 
beyond  doubt,  in  some  measure,  abated,  my  sentiments,  in 
nearly  similar  proportion,  partook  very  much  of  positive  hatred. 
Upon  one  occasion  he  saw  this,  I  think,  and  afterwards  avoided, 
or  made  a  show  of  avoiding  me. 

It  was  about  the  same  period,  if  I  remember  aright,  that,  in 
an  altercation  of  violence  with  him,  in  which  he  was  more  than 
usually  thrown  off  his  guard,  and  spoke  and  acted  with  an  open 
ness  of  demeanour  rather  foreign  to  his  nature,  I  discovered,  or 
fancied  I  discovered,  in  his  accent,  his  air,  and  general  appear 
ance,  a  something  which  first  startled,  and  then  deeply  interested 
me,  by  bringing  to  mind  dim  visions  of  my  earliest  infancy — 
wild,  confused,  and  thronging  memories  of  a  time  when  memory 
herself  was  yet  unborn.  I  cannot  better  describe  the  sensation 
which  oppressed  me  than  by  saying  that  I  could  with  difficulty 
shake  off  the  belief  of  my  having  been  acquainted  with  the 
being  who  stood  before  me,  at  some  epoch  very  long  ago — some 
point  of  the  past  even  infinitely  remote.  The  delusion,  how 
ever,  faded  rapidly  as  it  came;  and  I  mention  it  at  all  but  to 
define  the  day  of  the  last  conversation  I  there  held  with  my 
singular  namesake. 

The  huge  old  house,  with  its  countless  subdivisions,  had 
several  large  chambers  communicating  with  each  other,  where 
slept  the  greater  number  of  the  students.  There  were,  how 
ever  (as  must  necessarily  happen  in  a  building  so  awkwardly 
planned),  many  little  nooks  or  recesses,  the  odds  and  ends  of  the 
structure;  and  these  the  economic  ingenuity  of  Dr.  Bransby 
had  also  fitted  up  as  dormitories;  although,  being  the  merest 
closets,  they  were  capable  of  accommodating  but  a  single  in 
dividual.  One  of  these  small  apartments  was  occupied  by  Wilson. 

1 2  Poe's  Tales 

One  night,  about  the  close  of  my  fifth  year  at  the  school,  and 
immediately  after  the  altercation  just  mentioned,  finding  every 
one  wrapped  in  sleep,  I  arose  from  bed,  and,  lamp  in  hand, 
stole  through  a  wilderness  of  narrow  passages  from  my  own  bed 
room  to  that  of  my  rival.  I  had  long  been  plotting  one  of 
those  ill-natured  pieces  of  practical  wit  at  his  expense  in  which 
I  had  hitherto  been  so  uniformly  unsuccessful.  It  was  my 
intention,  now,  to  put  my  scheme  in  operation,  and  I  resolved 
to  make  him  feel  the  whole  extent  of  the  malice  with  which  I 
was  imbued.  Having  reached  his  closet,  I  noiselessly  entered, 
leaving  the  lamp,  with  a  shade  over  it,  on  the  outside.  I  ad 
vanced  a  step,  and  listened  to  the  sound  of  his  tranquil  breathing. 
Assured  of  his  being  asleep,  I  returned,  took  the  light,  and  with 
it  again  approached  the  bed.  Close  curtains  were  around  it, 
which,  in  the  prosecution  of  my  plan,  I  slowly  and  quietly  with 
drew,  when  the  bright  rays  fell  vividly  upon  the  sleeper,  and 
my  eyes,  at  the  same  moment,  upon  his  countenance.  I  looked ; 
— and  a  numbness,  an  iciness  of  feeling  instantly  pervaded  my 
frame.  My  breast  heaved,  my  knees  tottered,  my  whole  spirit 
became  possessed  with  an  objectless  yet  intolerable  horror. 
Gasping  for  breath,  I  lowered  the  lamp  in  still  nearer  proximity 
to  the  face.  Were  these — these  the  lineaments  of  William  Wil 
son  ?  I  saw,  indeed,  that  they  were  his,  but  I  shook  as  if  with 
a  fit  of  the  ague  in  fancying  they  were  not.  What  was  there 
about  them  to  confound  me  in  this  manner?  I  gazed; — while 
my  brain  reeled  with  a  multitude  of  incoherent  thoughts.  Not 
thus  he  appeared — assuredly  not  thus — in  the  vivacity  of  his 
waking  hours.  The  same  name  I  the  same  contour  of  person! 
the  same  day  of  arrival  at  the  academy  1  And  then  his  dogged 
and  meaningless  imitation  of  my  gait,  my  voice,  my  habits,  and 
my  manner!  Was  it,  in  truth,  within  the  bounds  of  human 
possibility,  that  what  I  now  saw  was  the  result,  merely,  of  the 
habitual  practice  of  this  sarcastic  imitation  ?  Awestricken,  and 
with  a  creeping  shudder,  I  extinguished  the  lamp,  passed  silently 
from  the  chamber,  and  left,  at  once,  the  halls  of  that  old  academy, 
never  to  enter  them  again. 

After  a  lapse  of  some  months,  spent  at  home  in  mere  idleness, 
I  found  myself  a  student  at  Eton.  The  brief  interval  had  been 
sufficient  to  enfeeble  my  remembrance  of  the  events  at  Dr. 
Bransby's,  or  at  least  to  effect  a  material  change  in  the  nature 
of  the  feelings  with  which  I  remembered  them.  The  truth — 
the  tragedy — of  the  drama  was  no  more.  I  could  now  find 
room  to  doubt  the  evidence  of  my  senses;  and  seldom  called  up 

William  Wilson  13 

the  subject  at  all  but  with  wonder  at  the  extent  of  human 
credulity,  and  a  smile  at  the  vivid  force  of  the  imagination 
which  I  hereditarily  possessed.  Neither  was  this  species  of 
scepticism  likely  to  be  diminished  by  the  character  of  the  life  I 
led  at  Eton.  The  vortex  of  thoughtless  folly  into  which  I  there 
so  immediately  and  so  recklessly  plunged,  washed  away  all  but 
the  froth  of  my  past  hours,  engulfed  at  once  every  solid  or 
serious  impression,  and  left  to  memory  only  the  veriest  levities 
of  a  former  existence. 

I  do  not  wish,  however,  to  trace  the  course  of  my  miserable 
profligacy  here — a  profligacy  which  set  at  defiance  the  laws, 
while  it  eluded  the  vigilance  of  the  institution.  Three  years  of 
folly,  passed  without  profit,  had  but  given  me  rooted  habits  of 
vice,  and  added,  in  a  somewhat  unusual  degree,  to  my  bodily 
stature,  when,  after  a  week  of  soulless  dissipation,  I  invited  a 
small  party  of  the  most  dissolute  students  to  a  secret  carousal 
in  my  chambers.  We  met  at  a  late  hour  of  the  night;  for  our 
debaucheries  were  to  be  faithfully  protracted  until  morning. 
The  wine  flowed  freely,  and  there  were  not  wanting  other  and 
perhaps  more  dangerous  seductions;  so  that  the  grey  dawn  had 
already  faintly  appeared  in  the  east,  while  our  delirious  extrava 
gance  was  at  its  height.  Madly  flushed  with  cards  and  intoxi 
cation,  I  was  in  the  act  of  insisting  upon  a  toast  of  more  than 
wonted  profanity,  when  my  attention  was  suddenly  diverted  by 
the  violent,  although  partial  unclosing  of  the  door  of  the  apart 
ment,  and  by  the  eager  voice  of  a  servant  from  without.  He 
said  that  some  person,  apparently  in  great  haste,  demanded  to 
speak  with  me  in  the  hall. 

Wildly  excited  with  wine,  the  unexpected  interruption  rather 
delighted  than  surprised  me.  I  staggered  forward  at  once,  and 
a  few  steps  brought  me  to  the  vestibule  of  the  building.  In 
this  low  and  small  room  there  hung  no  lamp;  and  now  no  light 
at  all  was  admitted,  save  that  of  the  exceedingly  feeble  dawn 
which  made  its  way  through  the  semi-circular  window.  As  I 
put  my  foot  over  the  threshold,  I  became  aware  of  the  figure  of 
a  youth  about  my  own  height,  and  habited  in  a  white  kersey 
mere  morning  frock,  cut  in  the  novel  fashion  of  the  one  I  myself 
wore  at  the  moment.  This  the  faint  light  enabled  me  to  per 
ceive;  but  the  features  of  his  face  I  could  not  distinguish. 
Upon  my  entering  he  strode  hurriedly  up  to  me,  and,  seizing 
me  by  the  arm  with  a  gesture  of  petulant  impatience,  whispered 
the  words  "  William  Wilson !  "  in  my  ear. 

I  grew  perfectly  sober  in  an  instant.